Damian Barton is backing Oak Leafs to rattle Ulster rivals
New Derry manager Damian Barton is preparing for a tough baptism in Division Two of the Allianz League now that it has been confirmed that his team will meet three other Ulster sides - Armagh, Tyrone and Cavan -on away soil.
Barton, whose outfit will formally commence pre-season training on December 1, has been busily engaged in making preparations for no fewer than three early-season competitions - the O'Fee Cup next month, the Dr McKenna Cup in January and the start of the league in February.
Derry were the last side to win the O'Fee Cup in 2013 when Chrissy McKaigue, who has since achieved considerable success with Slaughtneil, captained them to victory over Armagh in the final.
But it's the Allianz League that Barton sees as providing the barometer for Derry's progress in 2016.
Already there is a huge focus on Division Two because of the fact that five Ulster teams are bracketed together there along with Laois, Galway and Meath.
The trip to meet Tyrone at Healy Park, Omagh, will have particular resonance for Derry as the sides are due to meet again later in the year in the Ulster Championship quarter-finals at Celtic Park, Derry. And the Oak Leaf county's early-season clashes with Armagh and Cavan will also afford Barton the opportunity to assess his playing resources in what will be a championship-like environment.
Derry have not won the Ulster title since 1998 and Barton has made no secret of his desire to see the Anglo-Celt Cup return to the county.
Derry launched their new jersey at a function in Magherafelt last night when county board officials further fanned the mood of optimism currently prevalent at grassroots level.
Barton said: "As I have said before, we have some very talented players in this county but I think we have to get them all together and we have to give them the time to grow as a team, to develop as a team.
"I think that's going to be our greatest challenge.
"We don't want to be looking back at the end of the year and saying we should have done this or done that.
"We have to try and get things right from the outset if we can. It's important that players want to play for Derry."